Poetic Revolution
The political, industrial, and philosophical revolutions just discussed culminated in the poetic revolution of the early nineteenth century. As mentioned earlier, the Romantic poets, in their search to find ways to express the new feelings and ideas of their times, did, indeed, create a new poetry that represented a significant departure from Neoclassical literary standards.
The first edition in 1798 of Lyrical Ballads, a volume of poetry written by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is the first significant publication of characteristically English Romantic poetry and, as such, documents the reality of the Romantic revolt in English literature.
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A precise statement of the theory of Romantic poets is not possible, for they were a diverse group who did not view themselves as "Romantic poets." They were given that title several years later. The Preface William Wordsworth wrote for the second edition of Lyrical Ballads (published in 1800), however, provides an excellent summary of Romantic poetic theory. In the Preface, Wordsworth explained the theories that he and Coleridge had followed in writing their poems.
Wordsworth and Coleridge had attempted to write poetry that was free of what they considered the artificial restrictions of earlier poetry. For some time, opposition to the Neoclassicism of the eighteenth century had been growing; no longer were witty poetry, verse essays, and satires appreciated. In writing the Preface, however, Wordsworth did not produce a simple list of grievances; instead, he wrote a coherent explanation of the new theory of poetry. Although not all Romantic poets either accepted or used all the elements of Wordsworth's theory, the Preface does provide a general guide to Romantic poetry.
spontaneity of poetic creation
Another of the tenets presented in Wordsworth's Preface is that poetry be spontaneous. Neoclassic poets viewed poetry as an art to be studied and perfected; they followed specific rules in writing. The Romantics were different. Many of them expressed the belief that unless it flowed naturally and spontaneously from the poet, true poetry was impossible.
One should not assume, however, that the poetry of the Romantic period now appears as it first came to the poets. Indeed, the worksheets of the poets indicate that they reworked their poems many times until the results were finally satisfactory. The concept of spontaneity as stated was more a reaction against Neoclassic inflexibility than a literal statement of Romantic principles.
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In other words, the poet has a thought or experience that causes in him some great emotion, but he does not immediately and spontaneously create a poem. Instead, he recollects in tranquility the experience and the emotion and creates a similar emotion in his own mind. Yet he does not simply record objectively the experience and emotion; they are "qualified by various pleasures." The poet presents not what is (the objective view) but what exists as he sees it, as it is colored by his own thoughts and feelings (the subjective view). Hence, a poem is not purely spontaneous in that it does not burst from the poet the moment he experiences emotion. Still, a poem is somewhat spontaneous in that, though it is premeditated, it emerges from recollected and recreated emotion and from the artist's perceptions. It is neither planned nor forced to fit external rules, but it is pondered and reshaped by the author's values before it emerges as a poem. Such poetry is significantly more spontaneous than the structured and objective work of the Neoclassics.
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